The politics of conversion
Quentin Davies is the most recent disaffected Tory who was blinded by the light of New Labour, but there have been many others. And some confused souls have even mistaken the aura around the Liberal Democrats to be the light of truth, only to discover the reality that all manner of political demons may appear as angels of light. And even now there is more joy in the Conservative Party over one sinner who repents of standing for New Labour than there is in the thousands of loyal workers who have stayed with their party through its darkest hours.
Yet while crossing the floor represents a betrayal of one’s political colleagues and of one’s constituents (who more frequently than not vote along party lines rather than for individual candidates), the nation at large scarcely bats an eyelid. If one were to ask anyone in the street if they knew who Quentin Davis was, he would barely register. Even fewer would be aware that our ‘greatest Briton’, Sir Winston Churchill, was not averse to switching sides when he deemed it expedient to do so.
Politics demands a missionary approach, for the only way of implementing one’s policies is to win converts in the hope that on judgement day one has more brothers and sisters than one’s opponents. Conversion in politics is not deemed to be offensive; indeed, it is the very life-blood of a vibrant democracy to which freedom of expression and freedom of conscience are intrinsic. The freedom to convert and to seek converts is an undoubted manifestation and consequence of true liberty. The extent to which a society permits its citizens to change their minds and to persuade others to their new-found cause is a true measure of its commitment to progressive enlightenment.
So it is bemusing, if not profoundly irritating, that a ‘traditionalist Anglican’ is coming under ‘intense pressure from bishops’ to withdraw his Synod motion that the Church should ‘proclaim Christianity as the only route to ultimate salvation’. Since such a call is manifestly not ‘inclusive’, it does not accord with the zeitgeist.
Paul Eddy, a lay member of the General Synod, has secured sufficient support for his motion to be debated, but is being denounced by sundry bishops within and some Muslims without, but his assertion remains that ‘the Church can no longer avoid hard questions about its beliefs’.
He is concerned by the reality of ‘no-go areas’ for the gospel, to which the Bishop of Rochester has also referred, and says the church has ‘lost its nerve’ and was ‘not doing what the Bible says’. “Both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths," he said. "For years, we have sent missionaries throughout the whole world, but when we have the privilege of people of all nations on our doorstep, we have a responsibility as the state church to share the gospel of Jesus Christ."
"Most Muslims that I've talked to say: 'I really wish that Christians would stop watering down their faith and expecting us to do the same’. Until we start really saying what we really believe in our faith, there will be no respect. Actually, to present to a Muslim that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, they'll say, 'We know that'. They will expect us - if we're true Christians - to try to evangelise them, in the same way they will expect us, if they're true Muslims, to adopt their faith."
And the impeccably neutral BBC News religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says: ‘Mr Eddy's stance is likely to alienate many Muslims at a highly-sensitive time in the relationship between Islam and Christianity in the UK’. He added: ‘The motion is a sign of the conservative evangelical wing of the Church flexing its muscles to oppose what it warns is a watering down of Christian values in deference especially to Muslims’.
Cranmer admires Mr Eddy's conviction and wishes him well in his mission. If the BBC is the principal opponent and arch-persecutor, it probably indicates that Mr Eddy is on the right side. There is no hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury will raise his voice in support of Mr Eddy, but Cranmer looks forward to the floods of encouragement this poor trainee Anglican priest shall receive from those Roman Catholic journalists who are obsessed with conversion, or from those prelates who accuse the Church of England of perpetual and unacceptable compromise, or from His Holiness, who is so admirably uncompromising about the immutable truths that he is not remotely bothered by any politically-correct, relativist, liberal agenda.
His Grace shall not hold his breath.